Category Archives: Mental Health: Just a little bit of Crazy

Finding Time For Charity: That’s Me!

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Just the two of us. (Image by Bibo Photography).

Just the two of us. (Image by Bibo Photography).

 

My absence of late has largely been due to an overwhelming insecurity (and let it be said envy of other mothering blogs), that my ramblings are both insignificant and tedious for those who actually follow my writing. But seeing as the only person for whom these entries will have a lasting impression is my daughter, I thought it apt that today I make a return to chronicle our rather harrowing morning.The past few months have been difficult for our little family. Nothing exciting, just what my own mother would probably describe as the “great tedium”. The Toolman is working hard and long, I’ve taken to helping him do a little bit of work from home, Bella is growing into a toddler, we’ve spent our weekends either working or fixing up our investment property for rental and money is, as it usually is, tight. Many families are in exactly the same position and I often just refer to this time as “our working years”. It’s normal to go for stretches of time like a rat on a wheel, reveling in the small patches of sunshine the day may bring; usually some delightful outburst from Bella.

Bella has taken to pushing a small pram around the house yelling “Beep Beep, Go Go Go!” at the top of her voice which has me in stitches for much of the day. I even find it endearing how she’s taken to calling me “Cow”. But in our day to day lives, I seem to have lost a sense of who I am in all of this.

Two days ago I woke up with a thorn in my side and cried for most of the day. When the Toolman returned from work and saw my puffy eyes, he looked worried, half squinted with his head cocked to the side and told me, “If you go down, this ship will sink”. It made me laugh but I realised it was true. This was no time for sinking ships.

You see, that day in question, I had been to our local Aquatic Centre to look at the facilities, the gym classes and the child minding room. I saw that I could leave Bella there for up to an hour and a half while I took a class. After touring the place, we were only half way home when the waterworks started (from me) and didn’t stop.

So often a mother and wife can simply become the support team for everyone else. This is the role I have chosen and logistically it’s one that makes sense, I have the ovaries after all and after I last checked, the Toolman cannot grow children, so it’s logical that I put my efforts into growing our family. But it also means I long, LONG, for time that is about me. Mothers around the globe will nod their head I am sure when I tell you the delight that can be had from getting in the car (alone) to buy some milk (alone) at the supermarket (alone). At this point anything (alone) looks good as the overwhelm of being with a child 24/7 for weeks on end clouds over.

Acknowledging that this is an actual need of mine and not seeing another way to regularly book a time for myself with family or friends, the gym seemed like the most viable option. The fact that I am willing to lift a barbell in a choreographed fitness class most probably run by a Paris Hilton lookalike should be testament to the aforementioned need.

Did I deserve this time every week to go to gym? Would she be ok? Is 18 months too young? What if she needed me, would they find me? Would they feed her? All of these questions could be easily answered but the glaringly obvious anxiety that I couldn’t overcome was, what if “something” happened to her? Luckily for me I have a shrink on speed dial (I’d encourage everyone to hook themselves up with one of these. They have to listen to your neuroses, you pay them)!

Knowing that I will never be able to definitively answer any of these question, she might not be ok and yes, “something” might happen but choosing to tolerate the anxiety anyway, I took Bella today for a short play in the gym playroom today. We stayed for a while together and then I told her I was leaving and that was it, no tantrums or crying, she was easily distracted by her most beloved book after waving goodbye.

I on the other hand ran from the room crying and there began a schizophrenic hour of spying, crying, walking back and forth in front of the windows, tissue in hand and even ended up crying so much that snot was dripping uncontrollably from my nose. In short, we’re talking snot candles. Got the picture? I heard the women that have gone before me in my head, in their unsympathetic voices saying, “oh, don’t be silly, she’ll be ok”. I’m aiming a little higher than ok I want to scream at them!

On my return, Bella was playing in the sandpit, saw me and laughed, and moved on to the slide. Was this normal? What sort of attachment style was she exhibiting? Damn that psychology degree. We read and few books then headed for home after waving goodbye to the staff.

So she was fine and I was not. Mother guilt, check. Neurosis, check. Undermining voice telling me that I would be judged by other mothers, check. I was starting to resent my mothering hormones that had reduced me to THIS. I just know that I have to try the gym again.

The popular notion that on ones deathbed, one never regrets the work they never got to, the car they never had or the clients they didn’t see but rather, the time they didn’t spend with their family got me thinking about my own choices in life.

Being a martyr without a break for an hour and a half a week to avoid judgment from other mothers who WON’T be at my bedside during my last days would be in exchange for a happier mother, raising a happier daughter who will, I hope, be there.

And for me, right now, that’s my better than ok.

First World Problems and Maintaining Friendships

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Because it's all about Bella.

Because it’s all about Bella.

I really wish this was another one of those lovely letters mummy bloggers are fond of (and I’m quite partial to as well of course). You know the ones that start with Dear Bella and continue on to talk about how our little ones are the loves of our lives. Well before reading on, lets just assume that I heartbreakingly adore my child. And while we’re at it, lets also acknowledge that I’m about to go on a First World Problem rant and that I, nor my child is ill, we have food in the cupboard and small change in a porcelain pig on the night stand, placing us in the most blessed percentile on this known earth.

However……

I’ve been in the midst of a crisis of personal circumstance for a few weeks and I don’t think “the grass is always greener” argument is going to snap me out of it. It’s actually fair to say that after I physically recovered from having Bella, I’ve pretty much been stuck in a period of adjustment ever since. I have written about this before as I have tried to desperately explain to my friends how confusing it feels to love a child that well, sometimes you simply want to palm off for a night so you can go and pretend you still know what it feels like to be totally unencumbered from the weight of responsibility you were so totally unprepared for.

I know this sounds simple and I can hear a chorus of parents that have gone before me chanting, “suck it up, you can get back on the turps in a few years” but I feel like there are a few more layers on this.

You see, quite a few of my young silly years have been consumed with illness that you could say left me rather antisocial. Unfortunately, during a few of the years I really should have been spending my pay check on frivolous weekend drives to the beach, my then boyfriend (now husband) and I were worrying about my health. Yes, there were some great years but the time after we got married was devastating. I alienated myself from all of my friends, I gained over 35 kilos and most of our romantic encounters were spent playing cards on my bed in a psychiatric hospital. Even when I was well, it was always mostly the two of us.

I recovered from this as the lucky ones do and the past few years have been lovely. As soon as I lost the majority of the weight I gained and I finished the study which served to rehabilitate me into normal routines, I was pregnant with Bella.

Which was my choice.

Which was my blessing.

Which was my life long dream.

I just had never conceived that I would feel like I lost a part of my life and for some reason, it has started rearing its ugly head now. It could be because I am smaller or it could be because you want what you can’t have but I have other suspicions.

During those years, I lost a lot of friends. My fault. My disease. But having Bella gave me the real push to rekindle these friendships with girlfriends lost and it’s been great. Unfortunately for us, we have sort of missed each other in life timings. They don’t have kids. I do.

In the beginning I think I was kind of cool about it and really tried not to talk about Bella and asked about their dates or their boyfriends or their work but eventually I’m required to talk about myself and my contributions have become increasingly desperate as I try to convey the monumental change that occurred in our house, our relationship, our whole existence when we had Bella. Inevitably, I end up saying things like, “I need to go because if Belle falls asleep here, she wont nap later and I’ll be up all night which wont work cos’ we have music class in the morning”. And then I get in the car and I literally want to drive off a cliff because I AM THAT MOTHER.

Lately though, I’ve had a few conversations with some friends and people that frankly, I don’t even know that have left me retreating. Let me just say that I have NEVER said to anyone that is childless “you say that now but just wait till you have kids”. See, I know how patronising that is. How that makes you feel small. But I tell you what makes me feel small. Comments like,

“You really should just continue on living your life and take Bella with you”, or

“You need better role models to look up to that just take their kids everywhere”, or my favourite,

“You really need more couple time…to really connect”. Deep breath.

You know what peeps, please don’t even say “date night” around me. And I don’t really want to take my 15 month old out to a beautiful restaurant mid week. You know why? It’s got nothing to do with her, she’ll love it. She’ll throw food around, sleep all the way home and then party all night. But it will be a FRIGGIN NIGHTMARE for moi. And before you be helpful and suggest some “alone time”, now that our lifestyle has changed and the Toolman works rather gastly hours, I can’t really leave her at home during the week with him at all. I love that we live in a society where I can strap her to my back and bring her everywhere. I love that my friends think she’s really cute and never seems like trouble. I love that they love her.

And she’s not trouble and she’s not a burden. She’s just a child and as much as she is my everything, I’m not sure in hindsight that I had enough time to enjoy not being a sick person.  So I’m stuck in this limbo land where I need to get over what I feel I missed out on.

Most of all the point is that I have friends that for whatever reason like me and keep inviting me back and they’re the real friends you don’t often find that you can talk about horrible boils in horrible places with and not be the least bit embarrassed. I’m really lucky they’re there but unlucky they’re not there…you know, that place where you drive to each other’s house in your most glamorous track suit mid morning with a few kids in tow.

All in all, this isn’t about them, or Bella, or the Toolman. It might even be because I’m happy and in a good place I’m looking back over some of the years gone and thinking that sucked. It could even be that I have a child of my own now, I’m thinking more about myself when I was younger. That I could have been doing things that may have prepared me better for this time. Stories that I would have kept hidden from Bella; her mothers larrikin antics.

As I said, I wish I could have explained this in a loving letter but for whatever reason, I write it here instead for you all (mainly my mum lets be honest). One day she’ll understand how I struggled with early motherhood because I didn’t get drunk and silly enough in my early years.

And I’m guaranteeing that because I’ve been entrusted to raise her, that’ll make perfect sense….

Inadequacies of Motherhood

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She won't remember this but I will.

She won’t remember this but I will.

I’ve been eagerly waiting for the opportunity to write for weeks. After anticipating that I would be receiving a laptop for Christmas from the Toolman, I was looking forward to the prospect that it would enable me to write more. Currently, I have to take off to the office to write and raising Bella rarely allows it. Needless to say I wasn’t even slightly perturbed when instead of a laptop I was presented with a diamond ring to mark the successful first year of Bella’s life. Complaining? … Not!Following other blogs as part of my morning coffee ritual has left me itching even more for the opportunity to get back here. But I have also been left with a rather uncomfortable “blog inadequacy”.  I’ve moved in the past year into the “mommy blog” domain and thus am confronted daily with articles and ideas for balancing life, feeding toddlers, baby wearing and co-sleeping.  Mothering can now be done in a “style” and a larger than life market has been developed to largely make us all feel rather inadequate. You think the celeb magazines are bad? Pick up a parenting one and you are guaranteed to feel undermined.

I’ve only started thinking about all this in the last couple of days when I had to admit to myself that the reason I hadn’t written was that I was waiting for something to happen, something noteworthy to share. Something really exciting that didn’t start with “Today Bella ……….. for the first time”.

(Insert tumbleweeds here).

Everywhere I look there seems to be change on the horizon. Friends expecting second babies, people returning to work or study, starting a project of some sort. Here I am with Bella, just us, most days. And it seems that there is a whole industry designed to make me feel uncomfortable with this.

No one ever says to me, “That must me great”. I usually get, “Well if you don’t have to return to work, good for you” (only another woman could understand why this stings), “What do you do all day?” or my personal favourite, “Do you socialise her?”, like she’s a Rottweiler.

Just to be really really clear about it, this isn’t a blog about how a parent should be at home just because that is what I am doing. That would actually be giving me more credit that I am due. You see, being a mother at home (do we still use the phrase “stay at home mum?”) just came about for me as a result of an assumption both the toolman and I made. In that way I know I am lucky; as well as wanting this gig, I’m also with a man who wants it for me too.

Now more than ever I am venturing into unfamiliar domains. The first year of Bell’s life was undoubtedly the most transformative and difficult time of my adult life (and believe me, I’ve had some doozies)! But in a way, it was clear what my role was. Especially because I was expressing full time, my days were structured and ran on a four hour pumping routine. For this reason and because I was permanently sleep deprived, my wings were rather clipped.

Since her birthday though, we seem to have come into a whole new space. I’m not longer feeding; she’s crawling and standing and seems to understand most of what I say. This morning I found her trying to put on my socks and when I asked her to bring me my shoes, she crawled over and diligently did her best to drag them to me. I’ve gone from living with a mute stranger to having a permanently attached miniature version of myself who appears to have the same sense of humour (minus the vulgarity…give it time).

It would be too easy to simply list all the things I do in a day that occupy my time; we all know it’s a full time job looking after a child. It’s simply that all of these tasks put together at the end of the day, have little noticeable effect on anyone but the two of us. How interesting is it to anyone else that today I spent a good 45 minutes with two plastic cups, teaching Bell the art of chinking glasses and making a toast to the enthusiastic “Cheers!” of her mother. Or that I fancied myself a bit of a queen when I mastered the art of walking with the pram whilst reading a book to Bell at the same time. Hence, the blogging hiatus.

I have felt so confused that I have even considered returning to work after I received an offer from my old boss and mentor. Not because the idea really appealed to me but simply because I thought that in years to come Bella may be more appreciative that her mother was a “career woman”, rendering me utterly exotic in her eyes (I grew up in the 80s so the image of women with massive shoulder pads and brief cases still sends a tingle down my spine). But as the Toolman eloquently put it, if I did take up any more demands simply to satisfy a little girls fantasy that may or may not exist, he’d “never hear the end of it”.

So this will be our 2013. It will be about walks and books and music and weetbix. All of those things are now my social currency. I’m not the woman heroically juggling work and motherhood. I’m not the mother who runs a successful business from home. I’m not even the mother who runs bake sales. I’m the mother of a one year old and nothing else.  I usually love it, I often tire from it, and without doubt, most of the time can see the funny side (think calls to the Doctor concerning suspected radioactive blue poo after a blueberry incident).

So here we are, radioactive poo and all.

Cheers!

The Mama Dance

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If I was to tell you that immediately post birth I was contemplating picketing outside the hospital with a placard that read “Natural Birth = Cruelty to Women”, you might just guess the gist of my birthing experience.

Perhaps that is why it has taken me a while to get back here. Last time I wrote I was adamantly supporting the use of a birth plan and had my sights set on a romantic candle lit evening, birthing a baby. Even though I ended up with nothing of the sort, I should probably say straight out that I still maintain the same theoretical position. Without doubt, had I not employed the invaluable help of a midwife and a birth plan, I would have certainly been given a caesarean.

Even so, I had desperately wished that at this point, nine months on, that I might be one of those women who looked back fondly on their birth experience, regaling stories of softly lit candles and warm baths (despite everything I’m still convinced they exist). Unfortunately, I cannot deny my birthing experience was more of the “Help me- Help me- Greek- martyrdom-tragedy” variety. Fear most certainly was my number one companion and enemy throughout the ordeal.

But I think that all of that is probably a topic for another day when I have the energy to go there. Today, like all good blogging days is about getting back on the writing horse. Even if now post baby it is accompanied by a slight bladder weakness as we get into a trot (let’s face it, I’ve already wet my pants just climbing into the saddle).

You see, mothering is above all from the moment you give birth, well how can I put it?…Humiliating. It starts when your waters break and then appears to simply continue on until you die (are you getting the martyrdom thing now?). Yes, yes, the miracle of birth and all that… but seriously folks, I run out of fingers trying to count the amount of times I’ve wet my pants in public, opened doors not realising I have two rather elongated breasts waving to my toe,s or farted while in line at the supermarket (the later I always try to pass off as someone else, the nipple thing is harder to hide).

Whilst pregnant, the women that go before you smile wryly while watching you rub oil into your belly, waxing lyrical about the joy of carrying a child. WHY DOES NOBODY TELL YOU WHAT IT IS LIKE? I asked my friend this very question after giving birth and she answered simply, “Because it doesn’t seem very helpful. You’re going to have to find out anyway”. Good answer I suppose.

But here’s the thing. The real crux of it. The big taboo. There are some of us who find both birthing and bonding akin. It’s hard, it takes work and half way through you’re wondering what the hell you’ve gotten yourself into.

People say that when a woman gives birth and first meets her baby, love hits her. But the love I share with my daughter started as a little spark that would catch light but moments later go out. I had a really difficult time bringing her into the world and when we first met, I have to say it shocked me. Here was this little girl, my little girl, defenceless and needing me completely. I don’t hide the fact that I didn’t know what to do. Throw me a nephew or two and I could throw them under my arm and run with it. Show me my own newborn and I was useless. I thought for years that I was a natural mother but suddenly, in that moment, when I had to step up and “mother”, I was paralysed with fear.

How would I look after her? How would I give her everything she needed? The day I brought her home from hospital I cried to the Toolman, “I’m so scared I’m going to hurt her”. She was and is the most precious thing in my life and it took some time to realise that I wouldn’t break her. And if I’m honest, it took some time for us to get to know each other; for me to accept that she was mine and that I could look after her. Hey, it’s a work in progress.

Everybody that saw her said things like, “Isn’t she lovely, oh you must be so proud” and at each I smiled and said yes. In reality I was thinking, “Really?”. I remember my mother saying to me at one stage, “Now you know how I feel about you” and I thought at the time, “Right…it’s like that is it?”. Women don’t talk about this.

So here is my advice. My word of warning perhaps. Yep, getting that baby either out of your vagina or your stomach is going to be hard. Like, really hard. I hope it’s beautiful but if we’re talking Greek tragedies, think Troy ok? But you’ll get over that bit, trust me.

Be prepared though ladies for bringing that bundle of joy home. Know that it’s ok for them to cry; that it is their way of communicating with you. Know that they won’t die of hunger; your obsession with producing milk is probably your instincts in overdrive. This isn’t the dark ages, there are options. But absolutely most of all, know that quite simply one day, it will all come together…

For me, a few months after I had given birth, I looked at my daughter and I wasn’t scared to be alone with her. I wasn’t scared of her.  I knew that she was mine; that I couldn’t break her and that most of all, I did deserve to be her mother. That day, Bella, my daughter, became my baby girl and I her mother. I looked in the mirror and realised it was me that knew she liked to be swaddled well after it was customary to swaddle a baby; that she liked her feet free so that she could “twizzle” them all day and best of all, that it was only me that could calm her down by singing “Ten Little Ducks”.

Quite simply, one day (and important to note, months after our meeting), I looked at her and the love that washed over me has never left. She waited patiently for her Mama and our love grew and grew and grew some more. And it keeps growing. And I keep loving her. I love her more than life itself. I am so thankful I was chosen to mother her.

Sometimes life is not what you expect it to be and it teaches you funny things. In a few years my adorable munchkin may be reading this and to her I say that one day, you might have a little girl or boy of your own and you might give birth and be smacked right down with love. Or you might not. You might have to wait. And give. And love anyway. And wait. And hope. And when you aren’t expecting it, you’ll see that the love of a child is the sweetest love that seeps from your pores and never leaves. I hope I’m there for that.

Like all good love stories, that between a mother and her baby is a dance. It’s tears of frustration, it’s hysterical laughter. It’s blissful walks in the park and sad glances at scars left behind. It’s fear and responsibility. It’s teaching life lessons. It’s dancing a dance, knowing I don’t really know the steps yet.

Oh, what the hell…to be honest, most days it’s dishes and washing!

Living Large, Feeling Small.

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I’m back to big, living large and emotional about it. My “born-before-his-time-renaissance-man” would probably say I’ve hit the skids. And it’s not what you think…

Before I go on, I must acknowledge my extended absence from the blog and pass on my apologies. You see, it can probably be best explained when I tell you I got really happy (and busy) at about the same time I stopped losing any more weight and the goal posts in my life suddenly changed. I think it’s also of note that we often feel the need to be heard most when things are tough (think how many facebook status updates are angry tirades about other drivers) and so when life got good, I no longer had the same urge to keytap away.

But today, like I have done my whole life, I turn back to writing to try and make sense of the world when I can sense myself slipping back to a place that I simply refuse to revisit (yep, I can hear the mental health gods laughing at that one).

So where were we…..

Around February this year, I had just begun my frantic downsizing (in the form of skip hiring and random belonging throwing) and was about to embark on a camping trip with the toolman in an attempt to get back to basics (both were rather happily unemployed at the time and looking for direction). Miraculously, in clearing out all the clutter of the mind, the house and our relationship, a few very special things happened.

Firstly, being physically and emotionally lighter and in full recognition of the absolute living hell the toolman and I had fled only a short 18 months before, we had an absolute ball. My paranoia about shape and size left me and I swam, drank, ate and sunned myself like a Jackie Collins character in a back shelf romance novel.

Runner up in the happy stakes was the offer of a position with a charity that I had spent some time volunteering with and that was personally very meaningful to me. Considering potential pay cuts and our scary financial situation but running with “happy wife, happy life”, the toolman quickly made a commitment to support me in my new role.

But then look what he made me do. I went and fell in love all over again and as we all know, the more love you have, the more you have to give and so I went and fell pregnant.

Anyone who has read this before today probably remembers I was rather perturbed by a gammy set of ovaries for some time. So it didn’t actually occur to that I may in fact be pregnant when I started feeling what I now know as the tell-tale signs of pregnancy a few weeks after returning home.

It’s about this time that things started getting really good. Like, really good. Money problems were no longer money fears, work seemed meaningful, the toolman became the funniest and most endearing man alive, and I had what I had always always wanted. ..my baby snug as a bug.

So it confuses me that as I sit here now, eight months pregnant, with everything that I have ever wanted, I feel dejected. It’s even worse that as I contemplate the above and know how grateful I should be, I feel such confusion about my position that I have retreated from the world.

It seems that whenever I leave the house, I invite such a tirade of horror from other mothers and fathers alike, that is so invalidating, so patronising, I’ve been inside for days now crying. And as much as I have tried to come up with explanations that explain the motivation behind telling these stories, I’ve become too lost in them to find my way out.

Let me digress for a moment to illustrate my point (it’s a curvy one, stay with me).

I have spent a lot of time in the past dealing with mental health problems that has seem me spend a lot of time as an in-patient, changing medications constantly, dealing with sweats and pains, hallucinations and paranoia, judgement and stereotypes and some darn right scary situations. What I do know is that if you told me that you had been diagnosed with a problem, needed medication and in patient treatment what I WOULDN’T say is this:

“Gee, you better prepare yourself for the fact that you’ll never sleep again. Those night sweats are a killer. Oh, they might drug you so much you’ll wet the bed too. Better look out for that one. But no worries, you’ll start to feel a bit better, feel a bit normal again and then BANG- you’ll lose your sleep all over again…so don’t get cocky cos’ for a year you’ll feel like absolute shit. Forget your husband…he’ll be the dust. He’ll probably start looking around. And your body will turn to crap as well. Aches and pains. Better start massaging those muscles now cos’ the leg cramps will continue every single night for the next four years”.

You see, I forecast no value in “warning” anyone about any of this. But the greatest misnomer going around is that future mothers need to be told, to be warned, as it’s the kindest thing to do. Ironically, the above is not very far away from what I heard in the past few weeks. There is however, an even more cruel mode of communication amongst mothers and mothers to be which I like to refer to as “The Question Trap”. This is how it works…

You are asked a question which usually sounds genuine (don’t be fooled, no one cares what your answer is, the lioness is coiling back, ready to spring), you answer said question, trying desperately to avoid landmines that you can sense are underfoot but don’t have the map for, and Boom…you’re shot down blazing, pieces of your confidence floating through the air like confetti. I swear I can now see the satisfaction in the eyes opposite mine that read “that’ll take you down a peg or two”.

Let me give you an example that I have relived over and over since I fell pregnant. There are two main varieties, pick which one works for you.

Option One

Mother: “Are you going to use cloth nappies”

Me: “Yes”

Mother: “Why?”

Me: (This is where I insert the explanation about financial benefit. Crying poor is much more savoury than simply saying you think it’s a better choice – see what I mean about landmines).

Mother: (After a few seconds thought). “Well you realise that there is the cost of the washing powder and water and that it actually uses more greenhouse gas to wash them all the time. I give you a month before you go to disposables. You really should just see how you go. (Finishing slightly out of breath)”

Me: Silence. I never once thought of telling a mother who uses disposable nappies to “see how they go” but anyway….

Option Two (This one is the real beauty)

Mother: “Have you thought about a birth plan?”

Me: (MAYDAY! MAYDAY! THIS IS A TRAP!). “Ummm…yes…ummmm”

Mother: “You’re not bloody having it at home are you?” (Because that’s not loaded at all).

Me: “Umm..no” (Don’t let it slip about the birthpool for heaven’s sake). “I’m going to the hospital”

Mother: “And what about pain. Are you having a natural birth?”

Me: (Now this is where you tread carefully, I’ve learnt over time. I used to reply with big doey eyes that yes, I was going to try for a natural birth…I laugh now at the naivety).

“Umm, well I’m going to hospital but I’ll try to do what I can without any pain relief.” (Don’t say birth plan, don’t say birth plan).

Mother: (Half satisfied but still hungry for a kill). “Well, you can’t prepare for childbirth and really there’s no point in a birth plan because you have no control over it anyway. Plus you think it’s so important before you have the baby but realise how stupid it all was thinking about it once the baby arrives. I wouldn’t make your mind up just now (said with a laugh), just wait and see”

Me: (Yep, so my fear is stupid. Yep, my preparation is stupid. I feel small and silly for having a plan and on top of all that, the absolute most traumatic thing you can say you a trauma survivor is that you will have no control, even if it is the truth).

Why is it so threatening that I might want to do it like this? Why do I have to be told that my choice is silly and naïve and that I am considering doing something “the hard way”? You wouldn’t say to someone who is looking at detox, “Just wait and see how you go…you’ll be grabbing for relief in no time”, you’d be all “you can do it”, cheering from the sidelines.

I thought the other night that I had come up with the plan of all plans to avoid setting someone off. A master scheme that I could implement in future- Just lie about my intentions. When asked the question about pain relief, I replied that I was going to hospital ASAP, and would probably just have an epidural if I was offered it. But still no love; “Won’t that just slow labour down” was the reply, “You really can’t plan for these things you know”.

The innate problem with all this when I really think about it is that from the moment you are thinking about a baby, you are constantly struggling against someone up the line who knows better than you. I thought that when I fell pregnant I would finally be able to do what I had wanted to do my whole life…join the ranks of motherhood, talk with meaning. But there was always someone telling me with a sideway glance that “you know you can’t eat soft cheese don’t you”, desperately trying to put me in my place.

And perhaps this is where I am at today. I feel put in my place and invalidated. I have spent a long time finding a voice and I make no apologies that over the past few years I have often yelled more loudly than I needed to (I was just getting used to it you see). You see, I kept a secret for a long time and I made a promise a few years back that I wouldn’t do it again which has resulted in me often overstepping boundaries and saying things that others don’t necessarily appreciate (stiff upper lips and all).

But despite my best efforts, in order not to challenge or confront others, I feel that over the past months, something has been chipped away slowly. I have been invalidated and inadvertently been silenced in so many interactions that I wonder whether I have been taken back to that place where no one speaks and why I find myself now, in my own home, unable to speak to anyone, including the toolman.

Fear creeps in when writing this as I can hear judgement (perhaps just my own) that reads, “Here she goes again, banging on about the past” but maybe it’s time to get my voice back. Perhaps my experiences are valid enough, just for me, because they are mine. Or maybe I should push more love out to the world that seems so keen on judging others (and most poignantly, probably themselves).

Or best of all, maybe I should go back to making a plan and start up that yelling again…

The Break Up

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This year, once again I found myself beach bound with too much luggage and an incapacity to resolve in my mind the fact that I had not achieved what I set out for myself at the start of the year: to never go through a fat summer again. Imagine an overweight woman, sitting by the window, watching her family and friends outside in the Australian sun. Now watch her look down at herself, her stomach, and then back outside. She turns side on to look at her reflection in the mirror, checking no one is coming, then back outside. Looking square on in the mirror, she fluffs up her curls a little. “Right, you did this, so off you go”.

Every slim young thing that walked passed my camping site and it must be said, all those sitting at my very own table only highlighted to me how much I was still a physical disappointment, and my preoccupation with it only highlighted to me I’m a mental lightweight. I was unable to put aside the feelings of inadequacy and enjoy myself, falling further and further into a rather low state.

I must admit that for the past few months, and possibly a contributing factor accounting for my blog silence, I felt a creeping feeling of failure sneak up on me. There’s been something in the background, something I just couldn’t quite see clearly, shaking its finger at me and daring me to respond. Silencing that little voice inside*, I’ve tried to move quickly into action, keeping as busy as possible to avoid inviting over the black dog to bark at my backdoor.

As someone very talented in the art of emotional diversion, I convinced myself that the problem lay within the domain of my marriage. Namely, that I have never done anything to make my husband proud of me and therefore respect me. Such was my delusion, when watching a Grand Slam hosted in my home town, I actually wondered whether I could transform myself into a tennis-superstar-come-lately simply to impress the toolman.

Feminists put the gun down, you don’t want to waste that one bullet just yet.

On arriving home from my camping trip, I successfully humoured my gloomy disposition and opened and closed every cupboard in the house until I found a card I received from my family ten years ago before I left for Italy on a year long study trip. Along with the “Ciao Bellas” and the “Good Lucks” were more than a few messages that indicated that “the Italian boys will just love you” and one message from my mother’s dear friend that actually said, “Good Luck Darling. They’re going to love your shape”. My shape? Tucked inside the card was a photo taken of me before I left. I stared at it for a long time, wiping the tears from my eyes.

That was who was in the back of my mind. The old me, holding me hostage and incapacitating the me that lives in 2011. For the past two years, I’ve been holding up a ten year old image of myself as the picture perfect unattainable range of who I should be. And in every corner of my house was a relic that told the narrative of my disappointment and my endless consumption to compensate.

The next day, I called, booked and paid for a commercial skip to be delivered to my house. For the past week I have emptied, cleaned and purged all the things that have been terrorising me. I walked up and down the incline of my drive, sweating and puffing. After watching me all week, the two men who live next door (and who I might add have not spoken to me in five years) caught me, cottage cheese bum in the air, fishing out a pair of tiny olive pants during a bout of post-throw-dissonance.

“Are you moving?” they yelled.

My sweaty, frizz haloed head popped out from the depths of the bin. “Huh? Oh, no. I’m a Buddhist now. I don’t need stuff”. Ok, yes. I admit I’m odd but seeing as I’m quite partial to oversharing, it was the easiest way to escape unscathed.

When the skip drove off on the back of a truck, I thought my work was done. But as I watched it turn the corner, I realised I was broken, that I’m not who I was born to be. So I sat down (and here’s the bit where you’ll have to reserve judgement about my sanity) and had a little talk with myself. The me I’m supposed to be has the innocence of a child, without fancy things and shiny hair, nor is she a heavily committed working woman (you want that bullet now?). She’s a fit mother, able to live her life. Able to jump in a river without hiding anything, run a little without collapsing and sit with her family without shame. And you know what else; I really don’t need any stuff to get that.

It was time to Break Up with myself!

So I did what any good woman does after a break up; I cleaned my fingers red raw. Up on ladders, down on knees, climbing on top of baths, toilets and sinks. And each day as I’ve said goodbye to another little piece of me, I’ve put less and less into my body to quieten that doubting voice. No doubt we’ll have conversations in the future, discuss some misery over some bread and cheese, but I don’t think we’ll fight.

Perhaps I’m a getting just a little bit too abstract on you here? I did a spot of cleaning, so what? A better illustration of my state of mind may be in the response I gave to a cleaning shop owner a few days ago. On my third visit during a single week his curiosity finally got the better of him and he asked,

“Let me guess. You’re a caterer? A chef? A cleaner?”

I paused ever so slightly and then responded, “Umm, I’m not too sure. I think I’m a nurse”. And with that I left, realising that I had spoken the truth; that I’m not sure where I’m going or who I’ll be at the end of this year. It could all go wrong, or bad, or right. And perhaps I am not of sound mind right now…

But give a girl a break, I have been through a break up after all.

* Note: There is no actual foreign voice inside my head. Call off the Doc’s Ma.

Just As It Is

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“Must write blog, must write blog” has been in the back of my mind since I returned.  Unfortunately, I’ve been must-ing my way around my home town, straight back into the groove of daily life, hanging hopelessly onto the memories of a trip now passed.

There are a few minefields one faces upon return from a holiday when re-telling their holiday adventures. Unfortunately, there is always the danger of painstakingly recounting what is to others, an utterly boring he-said she-said; there’s a risk of going on far too long about the meal you just didn’t want to miss, and of course, it’s easy to forget that those nodding appreciatively have most likely been scraping baked beans from a can while you were stuffing your face with crayfish, taking happy-snaps.

A few days ago someone asked me to see photos. I directed them to Facebook in their own time but they pressed me for a personal viewing. Filled with trepidation, I obliged. But 15 photos in, one party had walked off; the other yawned awkwardly, declared they had to go and then left the house completely. When I found myself starting a sentence of explanation and then realised that by the end of the sentence, there was no one left to make eye contact with, I knew it was over.

“See! See! This is why I didn’t want to do it”. Other people’s photos are always best viewed in private. Mainly so you can flick through the scenic shots that have no context for you, but also to reduce the awkward dilemma of trying to wind up the conversation before a yawn creeps into the back of your throat.

Most important of all, how does one having travelled to a country like Africa not reconstruct moments, people and conversations with just a touch of the clichéd? Descriptions of wildlife, mountain ranges and canyons can’t really be made without using words like majestic and splendour, both of which make my eyes water with embarrassment, so I tend to not say much at all.

The most special of moments I had were not because of the scenery or cities. They were with people I met and the conversations I had with them, resulting in a shared experience that couldn’t be easily translated. And sometimes, if you are open to it, special things can happen that you don’t want to share anyway.

Perhaps my experiences over the past few years, in a strange way, prepared me well for the trip. If you open your eyes, but close your heart just a little bit, you’ll be well equipped to see everything there is to see. And it has to be said (simply because it’s true), magical (oops!) things can happen there.

Luckily for me, my moment of fat-girl emancipation in the form of riding an African ostrich, just as my grandmother did many years ago, never occurred. I was just that bit too heavy, which means I just might have to go back some time soon!

Holidays have a sneaky way of making people see the light. ‘When I get home, some things are going to change’ is a sentiment we’ve all experienced. It’s a diet, more exercise, more time for reading, leisurely weekends…always something.

But if I learnt nothing else, I learnt to think less, smile more and yes, it has to be said, realise that even though I may choose to, changes aren’t necessary.

I’m a lucky little bugger, just as it is…

A Digression of Confession

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I haven’t hit the keys recently as I haven’t felt tempered enough to restrict the “ranty” monologues going on in my mind that I’m susceptible to experience at any moment. Most people who know me understand that if you ask “what do you think about ____”, you’re going to get an honest answer and a rant that may have been lying dormant for days. Most recently, as I was lying on the couch feeling unwell, the toolman only knew it was serious when he realized I wasn’t yelling at the television. Sadly, I like to watch poorly produced current affair programs and do just that. 

Unfortunately, this negative energy can result in many of us being exceptionally good at telling ourselves what we do badly instead of what we do well. I have no problem accepting that I’m great at this little habit! But sometimes, we have to step back, take a breath and give a well rounded high five into the mirror (of course whilst alone and out of ear shot of anyone with a heartbeat).

But first, let me digress…and confess.

A year ago, I walked out of an in-patient psychiatric facility with only a mere hope that I might not be going back in but with the expectation that I would. Eighteen months before that time, I walked into my bedroom, woke up my husband and completely out of the blue started sobbing. For the first half an hour he asked me what was wrong. When I started wailing, actually wailing, he went quiet, climbed into bed and wrapped me up in his arms for the next hour until I stopped. When that ended, all I could say to him was,

“I’m not going back there. I’m not going to do this”.

He had no idea what that meant and in truth, at the time, I had no idea what that meant but had a suspicion I was unraveling. Whether “there” was a past I was referring to; whether it was an uncanny foresight that my life was going to completely change, I’m still not sure.

A month after this little voyage into the dark recesses of my mind, and after a little detour to examine any possibility that my problems were physiological; I packed a bag and was admitted into a psych unit.

Just five months after I married, when I thought I would be starting a family, I was getting my bag searched and my nail file taken from me. Over 18 months, I had six admissions, staying up to three months at a time; searching for the right medication, searching for the right plan, searching for something that would make it all better.

Our minds are curious and private places. Without doubt they can do strange things to us- make us wish we were no longer, force us to look for an out. The absolute black anguish one feels in the depth of depression is insufferable. Wanting this to end is the reason people who suffer from it are self destructive.

Unfortunately such an illness is difficult to understand, I understand this. But it’s an illness of mood and no amount of “rest” can fix the problem. Questions that ask “what do you have to be depressed about?”, or “just think of all the other people that have it worse that you”, do not help. Those that live on the margins of life already carry enough guilt about what their illness does to those around them.

When someone in your life is sick, in a way you have already lost them. But when someone in your life has a mental illness, the issue is still so taboo that the person who suffers, loses people in their lives too. Over the eighteen months I was in and out of the facility, people came and went. Some called, some came, some didn’t. But when people have a “normal” illness, there are a few guidebooks: flowers, cards, phone calls.

Many friendships were made in hospital, some hilarious situations experienced, and a week of death threats by knife from a co-patient. I’m sure it will write a great story one day. But more than anything, what those that I have met in my situation also feel is that we are now walking around with a little scar on our underbellies that no one can see, and if they can, they never mention.

My husband, like many of those with ill wives, anticipated the death of his wife at her hands. He felt helpless, out of control and has admitted to me since, “I didn’t think you would make it”.

For the first three months of my first admission, the toolman travelled an hour in traffic into the hospital, ate with me and played cards, and retuned home. As the months passed and he saw me getting worse and not better, without any other way to cope and with fear rising, he became quiet as my illness became louder.

I did have the support of family while I was in there and I don’t doubt the love they have for me. They saw me laugh, cry and fall silent. But my man was subject to a changed wife and lost his best friend. And now, with him, that scarred underbelly is seen and for that I am indebted.

As I transformed inside, the changes on the outside were vast. Gaining 40 kilos during this time was the least of my problems. But as I got better, the effects of my waist became worse and I found myself here, creating this blog.

Having said all that, I walked out of that place this time last August and whilst it has remained a bit of a slog at times, I’m over 20 kilos down now, a qualification nearly obtained and as if it couldn’t have come at a more momentous time, next weekend, the toolman and I are off to a-wimoweh our way around South Africa on holiday.

Moods need to be controlled, thoughts need to be monitored, a watchful eye kept out for the black dog, sheep or whatever it is. But Life can change and strangely, in a way, I’m a very lucky girl!

So for the next few weeks, let the good times flow baby. Lets spot the big five, dine on whatever it is there is to taste and get so snap-happy we’re dizzy from it.

Doesn’t seem I can help myself can I? When I open my mouth, a rant inevitably comes out…

The Text in Context

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The past week has had me asking some pretty serious questions. The query at the frontline of my proverbial war on words has been “what makes me happy?”

I lost nearly a kilo this week which had me in a lather of personal achievement (for all of five minutes) but was soon overshadowed with the sense that the monkey on my back is far from falling off with a swift slap to the head, instead preferring to fang in with even greater savour.  

I have all the signs of coming of age. I now accept the eccentricities that are me: I keep a pen in my bra, I like to read a map upside down, I like to wear woollen shawls (and prefer to call them “capes”), I occasionally wrap my cat in muslin and rock her like a baby (put the phone down PETA, she loves it, I’m telling you), I prefer flat shoes for any occasion, and nothing warms my cockles more than a good size plastic container.

So having matured enough to accept all that with open arms, I can only think that my general displeasure comes from desiring most what I cannot have. I have been prescribed a rather nasty medication for a rather nasty disorder of the skin that has rather nastily (have I said nasty?) reared its ugly head in the past ten months.

In the same way that some may be envious of my curls and rather ample bosom (even if the toolman predicts that in time “deck hitters” may be a better description), I am envious of those with smooth and unbroken skin. The psoriasis I have developed has left me with scaly and occasionally bleeding hands and feet; a rather gruesome affliction for a young woman.

The drama continues as previous treatments have proven ineffective and it is now considered a reasonable therapy to try a rather toxic drug. Side effects aside, babies are off the cards whilst on the drug which may mean a few years without child.

“What me wants, me can’t have” as someone rather gloomy and blue (me) once said.

Ovaries, mental health and crusty complaint aside, I try to convince myself that things can only get better. There’s always another uniquely shaped plastic container to add to the collection….

And then, when things just seem too much and I’m delirious enough to ask the heavens why someone up there is intent on withholding me the most special of gifts, I open the good book. Give me a sec…this may not be going where you think it is.

I have three loving and loyal siblings. One of them, the eldest is a considered communicator and rarely says much without some forethought. The other two, bless them, say some important and meaningful things but you generally have to wait patiently for these little gems to pop up between much loved scandal and chat.

One day, about a year ago, the eldest gave me a book which at the time I thought was an odd gift. But later, upon opening it, I realised it was his way of saying, “Keep your chin up. I love you”. It’s times like these that I open the “good book” and read from it.

“I’m afraid that some times

you’ll play lonely games too.

Games you can’t win

‘cause you’ll play against you.

 All alone!

Whether you like it or not,

Alone will be something

you’ll be quite a lot.

 And when you’re alone, there’s a very good chance

you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants.

There are some, down the road between hither and yon,

that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on.

 But on you will go

Though the weather be foul.

On you will go

Though your enemies prowl….

 ….On you will hike,

And I know you’ll hike far

and face up to your problems

whatever they are…

 …You’re off to Great Places!

Today is your day!

Your mountain is waiting.

So…get on your way”

 – Oh, The Places You’ll Go (Dr. Seuss) –

When in trouble, some have the Bible, some the Qur’an, I have Dr. Seuss.

And that’s what big brothers are for…

Onwards and Downwards

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I had an interesting conversation with a dear friend of mine the other day. A slightly morbid train of thought or at the very least a scene from a strange black comedy. We were comparing notes on mental illness and trying to decide what body parts we would give up to be free from the burden of our diseases. After some lengthy contemplation, I decided I would be happy to give away my middle, ring and small fingers from my right hand. My friend, who suffers from a more severe disease than I do, and consequently is unable to trust the reality of her thoughts for much of the time, decided she would be happy to trade her whole hand. Obviously (or obvious to us anyway), the toes lovingly referred to as our “pinkies” which are null and void anyway would be happily given away to sweeten the deal.

I have felt broken for some time now as my body has become increasingly tired and noncompliant. My ovaries are on strike, I have developed the rarest type of psoriasis on my hands and feet causing them to crack and bleed, my big toe nail is hanging on by the slightest of attachments (soon to be removed by a professional) and my mind is at times, a parasite, enslaving its inhabitant (me) to wreak havoc on my life.

Despite this, little gems still manage to crop up in front of me. The Toolman and I travelled to a small Australian town, on the border of two states last weekend, in celebration of the Toolman’s birthday. We opted for some cheap accommodation in the main street of the town (our favourite way to travel) and instead of frequenting the surrounding wine region, full of city folk trying to “look country”, decided to make ourselves familiar with the locals.

When travelling, the Toolman and I manage to enter into the strangest situations that only being away from your home town can produce. It has become quite the habit for us to stay in substandard accommodation and prop somewhere, confident that inevitably an interesting local will befriend us. This town did not disappoint.

We sat quietly in an empty bar on Saturday night, after a day that had been spent much in silence. When I am “not well”, I struggle to communicate because of the energy it requires and therefore abuse the intimacy I have with my husband that allows me to stay mainly mute. But within an hour, we had befriended “Rod and Shirles” who wanted us to stay at their place, Geoff the local sheep farmer and Stan the book man. Not only were we acquainted but I had successfully obtained individual stories from each which included a drug affected daughter, a deep disappointment that a son had chosen an academic career instead of a life on the land, and a deeply shameful liaison with a married woman. The next day, people were waving to us in the street and introducing me to the woman at the centre of said affair to “see what I thought of her”. But in all this an interesting this happened. A man unknown to both the Toolman and I said to me, almost completely out of the blue,

I think sometimes we can underestimate the illusionary nature of pain”. And that was it. I was so shocked that I didn’t respond, instead chose to contemplate how this idea had so randomly been presented to me by a total stranger.

And so in contemplating, I wondered whether pain was in fact just an illusion or perhaps even, an hallucination. If an hallucination is the perception of “something” in the “complete absence of anything”, and an illusion is the “incorrect perception” of something that is actually “there”, perhaps my pain is in fact an illusion after all.

You see, I could have it all wrong. And just maybe all those religious types have something to offer. Because what if my mental illness, my psoriasis and even my toe nail are not sources of pain at all? What if I have incorrectly perceived them? Could they be little gifts, little ways of learning and becoming stronger and (shudder)….happier?

Don’t worry, I haven’t lost it, OF COURSE THEY’RE NOT! They’re just crappy and make me feel crappy and unhappy and overwhelmed. But as my Grandpa said to me the other day which resulted in a few tears springing to the corners of my eyes,

“You’re a great jumper. You jump over everything thrown at you. In fact, you should go down to the track and show those horses a thing or two”. I felt something for him when he said that, which I have never felt before. Maybe he has gotten me all along after all?

The next day, I tried something new. I got out my “Thailand-Special” converse runners and an old pair of trackies, threw my long out-of-control curls on top of my head and went for walk because I will not let this get away from me. I want to lose weight, shed the flab and move on, toe nail or no toe nail. And just maybe, I can walk myself out of all this malaise.

So enough of all “that”, it’s do or die and how true that is. Onwards and upwards peeps, back to calorie counting and weighing and all those other clichés synonymous with getting back on track, yoo-hooing, and fighting the good fight!

Maybe with a bit of extra effort, I can delay the inevitable slide down for at least a few months, maybe even years.

But by the way, just so you know, my friend and I drew the line at losing an eye.